Legumes are great sources of fat, protein and carbohydrates. Different varieties contain varying amounts of these nutrients, with beans, nuts, peas and lentils all having unique nutritional profiles. Although these foods are a staple of vegetarian diets, non-vegetarians can also benefit from eating more legumes. For example, replacing red meat with a serving of black beans lowers your fat intake while boosting your fiber and protein intakes.
The most common varieties of legumes are beans. These include adzuki beans, black beans, soybeans, anasazi beans, fava beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), kidney beans and lima beans. These foods are high in protein and carbohydrates but low in fat. For example, 1 cup of cooked adzuki beans contains 17 grams of protein, 57 grams of carbohydrates, 294 calories and only 0.2 grams of fat. In comparison, 1 cup of cooked chickpeas contains 15 grams of protein, 45 grams of carbohydrates, 269 calories and 4 grams of fat. Because of their assortment of flavors and textures, a mixture of lightly-seasoned, cooked-then-cooled beans makes a flavorful, nutritious and filling salad.
Some legumes are inappropriately called “nuts.” The most common example is the peanut, with other examples including soy nuts and carob nuts. Similar to other nuts, these legumes contain high concentrations of protein, fat and carbohydrates. For example, 1/4 cup of dry-roasted soy nuts contains 11 grams of protein, 10 grams of fat, 11 grams of carbohydrates and 150 calories, and 1/4 cup of dry-roasted peanuts has 7 grams of protein, 5 grams of carbohydrates, 160 calories and 13 grams of fat. When eating soy or peanuts, choose dry-roasted and unsalted varieties to avoid the high fat and sodium content of oil-roasted, salted nuts.
A number of legumes are labeled as peas, including green peas, snow peas, snap peas, split peas and black-eyed peas. Similar to beans, peas contain high concentrations of carbohydrates and protein but little fat. For example, 1 cup of boiled green peas contains 8.6 grams of protein, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 134 calories and 0.4 gram of fat. Split peas contain higher concentrations of protein and carbohydrates but a similar amount of fat. One cup of boiled split peas contains 16 grams of protein, 41 grams of carbohydrates, 231 calories and only 1 gram of fat. As most varieties have a naturally sweet flavor, peas are great as a side-dish, snack, addition to a stir-fry or topping on a salad.
Legumes that are classified as nuts, beans and peas are approximately spherical in shape. With their flat, round shape, lentils differ from this general pattern. Whether yellow, orange, green, brown or black, the nutritional profile of lentils does not change with their color. However, sprouted lentils differ from non-sprouted lentils in their nutritional content. One cup of uncooked sprouted lentils contains 7 grams of protein, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 82 calories and 0.5 gram of fat. As they are much denser, non-sprouted lentils provide larger amounts of these nutrients. One cup of cooked lentils contains 18 grams of protein, 40 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fat and 140 calories. Although, the non-sprouted variety is more common in cooked dishes, both varieties can serve as the basis for Indian dal curries.